Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
You could see it the first time Giancarlo Stanton buttoned his pinstriped jersey at a remarkable news conference at the winter meetings last December in Orlando, Fla. The slugger, appearing relaxed and relieved, smiled while roasting Derek Jeter's Miami Marlins.
As Stanton said that the Marlins' front office had "no direction," and recommended that fans watch the team "from afar," he announced himself as a charismatic fit for New York. This was a superstar unafraid to speak his mind, mix it up, and lean into the brighter lights.
On Monday night, he initiated another sort of roasting, this one directed at Detroit pitcher Mike Fiers. In doing so, Stanton again reminded us of a basic fact about him: His presence transcends his numbers.
He's not the game's best all-around player, but whether he's hitting .240 or .290, he might be its most compelling. With apologies to Mike Trout, it takes more than skill to be the biggest star. Reggie Jackson was never the most talented player of his era, but he's an undisputed icon.
Stanton carries himself in a way that could ultimately land him in that class.
This was easy to forget during a mildly bumpy transition to the big city, when Stanton heard boos from the home crowd. And he continues to underperform at Yankee Stadium. But with his thunderous bat and - crucially - willingness to flaunt an occasionally edgy personality, Stanton plays a significant role for a franchise accustomed to being the most entertaining brand in sports.
In the post-Jeter, post-A-Rod era, Stanton is capable of defining the Yankees' new identity. Hell, his first act with the team was to publicly own its most recent captain.
On Monday, the Fiers episode was high-level theatre. Four years ago, Fiers famously hit Stanton in the face with a pitch, suddenly putting a dynamic career at risk. Stanton recovered, but did not take kindly to Fiers plunking him in the third inning on Monday.
Then, in the sixth, Stanton homered off Fiers. He followed with an emphatic bat toss that would have impressed Jose Bautista. He smirked all the way around the bases. And - this kicker was fantastic - he pointed toward Fiers after crossing home plate without deigning to look at him for more than a fleeting second.
Fiers was left to smile and shake his head, unable to escape the fact that he'd been thoroughly embarrassed. For a moment, you could swear that he was blushing.
Stanton's post-game comments didn't really make sense. "I mean, if that happened before and you're gonna come in, make sure you don't hit me," he told reporters. "You've got to get it over the plate or make sure you don't hit me. Obviously, anything like that happens, another ball like that, no matter how many years it is, I'm not gonna be happy. I'm not just gonna walk to first and everything will be OK."
That's a visceral reaction, not a logical one. But sports are visceral, theatrical, dramatic. And Stanton - especially when supported by a roster deep enough to cover for his slumps and flaws - appeals to a place that cuts deeper than analytics or rational thought: He's a star, and he's cool.